“Like a man traveling in foggy weather, those at some distance before him on the road he sees wrapped up in the fog, as well as those behind him, and also the people in the fields on each side, but near him all appears clear, tho’ in truth, he is as much in the fog as any of them.”
— Benjamin Franklin
Americans, and Utahns, are busy fussing over what we should teach our children (who probably aren’t paying that much attention) about our history and our culture.
On the national level, we have the Pulitzer-winning 1619 Project of The New York Times, a powerful reexamining of the American story through the unpleasant but truthful lens of how the legacy of slavery and racism leaves practically no aspect of our government and culture untouched. Much of the reaction, including a dunderheaded response sponsored by the Trump administration called the 1776 Project, sought to counter a perceived argument that slavery is all we are by foolishly claiming it is none of what we are.
In Utah, eruptions of this battle include people supporting — and people calling for the removal of — a member of the State Board of Education who ran on the claim that students are being brainwashed, 1619-style, into hating our nation for the racism, sexism and xenophobia that is part of us. As if our children are so weak-minded that knowing the bad parts will cause them to ignore the good, or the potential, that comes from facing facts and resolving to do better.
In Ogden, parents of some children attending a particular charter school wanted to opt their children out of Black History Month curriculum. A request that was quickly withdrawn once a brief national media flurry made it look ridiculous.
In my inbox, in just the past few days, I’ve received heartfelt criticism telling me The Tribune is irredeemably left-wing because we told the story of that state school board member, Natalie Cline, and ran opinion pieces against (and for) her views, when what we should be doing is helping her to stand against Marxism in the schools. (Marxism being a term these critics don’t define and has been described by a Twitter wit as any belief to the left of the idea that it’s OK to hunt the homeless for sport.)
But I’m also told we are sickeningly right-wing for reporting the anti-impeachment arguments of Republicans in Congress. As if it is not in the public interest for our readers to know what’s being said by those sitting in judgment of the former president.
Benjamin Franklin tried to be understanding of the ignorance of others, and hoped that they, in return, would be charitable toward his humble efforts at knowledge.
(He did like people to address him as “Dr. Franklin,” even though he’d never been to college and certainly wasn’t a physician, based on honorary degrees he’d received for his scientific work well before he became a Founding Father.)
The above passage, from Franklin’s marvelous “Autobiography,” follows an anecdote about an acquaintance who was a member of one of those religious sects early America was alternately hospitable and hostile to, in this case the Dunkers. Franklin suggested a good way to avoid being misunderstood would be for the Dunkers to publish an account of their beliefs.
But that advice was politely declined, as his friend said the goal of the Dunkers was to constantly seek the truth, and if they froze their current beliefs in writing they would find it difficult — and their descendants might find it impossible — to refine them as their knowledge and understanding grew.
Thus Franklin’s image of everyone traveling through the fog, each of us thinking we are in a clearing and all the others are not, and all the others thinking the same of us.
Some might have found that metaphor downright crippling, a reason to stop and do nothing, waiting for the fog to clear, which, of course, it never would. Yet Franklin charged ahead, present at the creation of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.
Those who claim to revere those documents should see that they will never totally escape the fog. But that they would greatly disappoint Dr. Franklin if they insisted on generating more.
George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, looks forward to a time when the events of the last 18 months are a foggy memory.